Photo provided
The Henri-Chappell Cemetery holds 8,000 American dead.
Photo provided The Henri-Chappell Cemetery holds 8,000 American dead.
Our tour hit some somber notes on the last day.
“Writing the War-Following the Footsteps of WW2 Correspondents” visited the Huertgen Forest in Germany. A six-month battle for a 50-square-mile pine forest that no one remembers.
It was a nightmare for our infantry. It was dark, damp and deadly. The Germans were hidden in concrete bunkers some built nearly 10 years earlier- before there was a World War sparked by the invasion of Poland. The dense forest of trees 100-feet high deprived the Americans of tank and air support.
Under machine gun fire, the infantry had to get close enough to jam explosives into the pill boxes to either force a surrender or kill those inside. The intensity of this battle is illustrated by the fact military units continue to sweep areas of forest today to clear now 75-year-old land mines, so loggers can safely harvest trees. These units continue to find the remains of dead soldiers from both sides of the conflict.
Part of the Huertgen Forest battle’s obscurity is due to the historical question raised as to its necessity and lack of leadership by its commanding officer, U.S. Gen. Courtney Hodges, who seemed oblivious to the nature of battle in the deep forest, according to tour historian Donald Miller.
You can get lost in the number of casualties at this battle, which paused during the more famous Battle of the Bulge. The personal aspect of war was brought home at the Henri-Chappell Cemetery where the National World War II Museum tour also stopped. Tour members Rich and Karen Coffman of Montgomery, Texas, lay a wreath at the grave of Rich’s uncle Carll in the cemetery that holds 8,000 American dead.
Rich told the tour how he never met Carll because he was only a toddler when his uncle, a civilian pilot enlisted in the infantry. The U.S. Army put him back in the air in a Piper Cub as an artillery spotter, calling in enemy locations. He was shot down and killed by Luftwaffe fighter planes.
The bus carrying our group also made a stop at Vogelsong where Adolf Hitler built a camp to train selected young Nazi party members to become the next wave of government administrators. The primary curriculum for the two 400-member classes was racial purity and Aryan superiority.
Some of the students became the Nazi officials on the eastern front who decided whether a person was sent to a labor camp or death. It’s been documented that one “graduate” was responsible for 80,000 deaths.
I don’t know if this was intentional, but the stops remind us that while we remember those who served and won the war, we don't celebrate war.
Today's stops pointed out that our military leaders are not infallible;fathers, uncles and sons die in war; and extreme nationalism can have deadly consequences.
The tour’s final dinner at Pullman Quellhoef Hotel in Aachen, Germany, lightened the mood.
The Hokkaido pumpkin soup and Yakitori roasted kernels were followed by a beef filet and roasted king prawn, over sweet potato puree.
The excellent food and wine accompanied conversation, which occurred at every group lunch or dinner. During the tour, discussions ranged from historical to personal to geopolitical. I met a, golf course owner, Retired CEO of multiple casinos, and someone who helped with Hollywood casting. There was an optometrist, a dentist, and a principal. They were all friendly and I only regret there wasn’t time to talk to everyone during the trip.
This was my first travel tour experience and I didn't totally know what to expect. Any trepidation was unfounded and I would be happy to make another trip if it was handled in the profession manner of this National World War II Museum production.
As a proud Hoosier, journalist, and member of the board for the Ernie Pyle World War Ii Museum in Dana, Indiana, I’m very aware of the role Pyle played in the global conflict. Donald Miller though introduced my to a half-dozen additional war correspondents that I now want to get to know more thoroughly.
But I am ready to get back home to Indianapolis and my wife, Gayle, who encouraged me to take what might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.